Decision 2012 IP Video For All

New tech trends that move the question from "Why IP?" to "Why not?"

The adoption of IP-based surveillance continues to increase annually, capturing market share across virtually all industry segments. The most recent IMS forecast indicates that IP video amounted to about 30 percent of all installations in 2011 and will be nearly 50 percent of the market by 2015. Integrators and consultants, along with security practitioners, have long-since realized that the trend toward IP has by far surpassed the point of being a niche offering. It’s moved to the class of required knowledge.

With each passing year, performance improvements of electronics in the IT and consumer worlds enable manufacturers to address demands that they couldn’t have with earlier product generations. This is a major drawback of analog, where the most recent “innovation” was the addition of color video in the 1950s. In the IP world, however, manufacturers with open ears are essentially handed a blueprint for success.

Just as CES is to the consumer world, ISC West showcases the trends that will shape the physical security world in the year ahead. The question remains: What has the market been asking for that we’ll finally see on the 2012 show floor?

Clarity: Seeing Better than the Naked Eye

Image quality is the most critical success factor for the security professional deploying video. The defined objective of a surveillance application dictates the quality of the video required, while the conditions or mounting environment dictates the camera type selected. This is surveillance 101 for the integrator and/ or consultant.

Recent advances in video processing chips, sometimes referred to as a systemon- a-chip (SOC), combined with the latest image sensors give security professionals broader product portfolios to choose from. For the past two years, manufacturers have been in a race to deliver the highest resolution cameras. While the chips and processors can render high multi-megapixel images, the lens marketing is currently topping out at about 5 MP. Because camera imaging technology must wait for the lens market to catch up, manufacturers will concentrate on products that provide more clarity, specifically in low-light scenarios.

The most light-sensitive camera on the market is an IP addressable network camera delivering color imagery down to 0.05 lux without the need for auxiliary light. Known as “Lightfinder,” this technology will find its way into all types of cameras—from box to dome to PTZ dome—and provide increased resolution, enabling color images in scenes that traditionally delivered only black and white. Adding color to video shot in virtual darkness only increases the usability of that video, giving the security practitioner enhanced situational awareness. This capability is available in cameras that are outdoor- ready, powered by Ethernet, and rated down to -40 degrees F, right out of the box.

Compression: H.264 Wins Again, but with a New Profile

Today, the storage of video is done almost exclusively in the digital realm; thus, any improvements to compression results in cost savings for the purchase and ongoing operation of a surveillance system. H.264 is the undisputed industry leader, with widespread adoption by manufacturers of hardware and software. It’s been the driving force not only behind bringing HDTV-quality video to the control room but also in the shift from analog to IP as a whole.

That stated, there are several different “profiles” defined by the MPEG-4 standard that governs H.264—otherwise known as Part 10—which offer varying levels of performance. Most products operate using what is termed the “Baseline Profile,” but in 2011 the industry saw the introduction of products using the even more advanced “main profile.” The adoption of the main profile will further decrease bandwidth consumption while maintaining or improving image quality for compressed images. If all things remain the same, this equates to cost savings on storage since you can record the same amount at higher quality with less disk space. Another option would be to use the excess storage capacity to either increase resolution or frame rate, or simply add more cameras without increasing the storage investment.

Chips for Analytics: Killer Apps are Coming

The killer app for video surveillance products is the ability to apply rules to a condition and initiate predefined actions as a result. Otherwise known as analytics, applying intelligence to the edge or in the camera offers new options for solving some common problems faced by security professionals in all industries.

Over a relatively short period of time, humans experience physical fatigue that impacts their ability to effectively monitor video—the same fatigue you might experience when reading a long article. Computers, on the other hand, do not have this disadvantage and will continually process events in the manner they were programmed. The challenge is programming them. With each new advance in processing power brought on by a newer generation of in-camera chipsets, capabilities increase, giving us new opportunities to do more at the edge while increasing ease of use.

The power is there today for more on-board analytics, so expect to see software developers leveraging the camera as a platform in the way the iPhone drove the app movement.

Convenience: IP is Everywhere

Ease of installation will certainly be showcased at ISC and continue throughout 2012. The end goal is to decrease the time it takes to physically install devices so more time can be spent on configuration and improved use. Year-by-year we’ve seen IP video products becoming easier to install, and now the industry has its eyes on making them easy to install in any environment.

Out-of-the-box products that can be installed in any temperature extreme, from -40 degrees F to 165 degrees F, are hitting the market. By being able to hang and connect the camera in a matter of minutes, installers can focus on more valueadded configuration practices, including image-quality settings, which will be the ultimate judge of the system’s success.

Educating yourself and/or your staff on camera configuration practices would be a good after-the-fact New Year’s resolution. The industry is at the point where the majority of integrators can sell, install and maintain a functioning IP surveillance system, but one major distinguishing factor will be the ability to obtain the best quality image from the camera selected—default settings are not always the best choice.

Convergence: IP Isn’t All-or-Nothing

Despite the many undisputed advantages of network cameras—image quality, scalability, TCO and functionality—analog still has its place at the table in 2012 and will be an uninvited guest for many years to come (for those of us who strongly believe in the IP world, anyway).

All kidding aside, analog cameras still provide a workable solution for certain installations and continued to amount to 70 percent of new camera installations in 2011, according to IMS Research. But the shift from analog to IP video surveillance continues to accelerate, and that’s because the shift isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition.

The continued development of video encoder technologies, which act as a bridge between the analog and digital worlds, enables practitioners to leverage working analog cameras and integrate them into the future IP surveillance system. Like the analytics market, encoders are benefitting from improved chip (SoC) technology.

One of these benefits is the ability to better de-interlace video captured by analog cameras. For example, analog cameras produce video in lines of resolution that are designated as either “even” or “odd.” Combined, they produce the entire picture, but there is a 17-millisecond delay between the odd and even lines. When there is movement, the delay creates an interlaced effect that causes degradation in the image quality. De-interlacing reduces this effect and thus provides a clearer image. You’re still stuck viewing recordings at NTSC or PAL resolution because of the analog camera, but it won’t have the jagged lines associated with interlaced cameras.

Finally, the form factor of encoders is typically identified by two criteria:

  1. the number of analog video channels it can convert
  2. whether it is stand-alone or rackmounted. Current offerings start at single-channel offerings and go up to enterprise rack-mounted solutions that can encode 84 channels of video. Performance enhancements of SoC provide the capability of multichannel video ports on one chip—the end result is a lower cost per port of video encoders. The world is full of analog cameras, and with each performance increase the reality of converting them to a digital solution becomes more affordable.

More Convergence: Small Systems Have an Edge

As discussed when talking about compression, storage is a major component of the solution with IP surveillance systems. Solid-state, removable media falls into this category and is now commonly found in edge-based video devices.

Whether cameras or encoders, edge devices can have significant storage capability built into the product. The SDHC standard is commonly found in network cameras today and offers storage capability up to 32 GB, which could amount to days or weeks of video. Local storage coupled with a basic Webbased viewing application amounts to a simple NVR platform. The ability for small business owners to leverage the enhanced image quality of IP surveillance can be realized with these lowercost systems.

Moreover, by using edge storage, the complexity of the installation is greatly reduced by eliminating the need to deploy recording servers or load software. Traditionally, this market—the lessthan- 16-camera one—has been dominated by analog cameras and low-end DVRs. As a result, the companies that are focused on this small market segment can no longer afford to ignore the IP shift. To do so will imperil their livelihood as more IP-savvy companies learn they can compete successfully for small business surveillance opportunities.

Even More Convergence: The Cloud Flies High in 2012

The final trend pushing IP surveillance into the realm of small business is one that’s been buzzing for the last two years: hosted video. In 2011, major national system integrators including ADT, NAVCO, Niscayah, Siemens and Stanley launched hosted video applications that offered customers a range of business choices. Now customers can opt to purchase cameras and pay a monthly fee for the off-site storage of recordings. Some companies offer complete turnkey solutions—cameras included—for a monthly fee.

This changes the traditional DVRbased business model of purchasing all the equipment up-front and relying heavily on maintenance and service, which can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses. It also offers new avenues for monthly recurring revenue for integrators of all sizes, since some hosting providers offer private labeling of the service, giving qualified companies the opportunity to offer hosted video services under their own brand. Together, edge storage and hosted video might just sing the final swan song for the DVR.

But the hosted video trend is not solely focused on small businesses. For instance, national retailers with a number of dispersed locations might deploy thousands of hosted video channels across their retail operations in malls or shopping centers. They receive the benefits associated with IP video but aren’t purchasing separate storage devices for each location. And for those who do not have the time or resources to monitor all these video channels internally, central monitoring stations will embrace this opportunity as it becomes more widely accepted.

And for those customers who are hesitant to consider hosted video because of the need for high-resolution video, the consumer market is playing a major role. Ever-increasing bandwidth pipes from Internet service providers will give us more resolution options in the future. In areas where bandwidth is lacking, network-attached storage devices—the same ones that consumers use to store backup photo, video and music files—can be used to record multi-terabytes of higher-quality video locally in a cost-effective manner. Remember the onboard storage from earlier? That can be used for HDTV recording, as well.

IP (Really) is for Everyone

Technology innovations in network video have made it so that IP is for everyone, regardless of the installation size or location. There are so many more storage, installation and functionality options today that it will be hard to turn down an IP system—so long as the end customer is properly educated on the benefits. Use this year to learn all you can about IP. It will be everywhere you look.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Security Today.

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